Compassionate leave – what are my rights?


Most people will experience the death of someone close to them at some point during their working life. Grief is a natural part of bereavement, and many people find they need some time off work to come to terms with the loss.

In the UK, employees are entitled to time off work following a death, so it can be helpful to understand what entitlement you have and any regulations in place….

What is compassionate leave?

Compassionate leave is when you need to take time off work following a personal emergency. This could be for a number of reasons, including the death of a loved one. When the time off work relates to a death it is known as bereavement leave.

In the UK, a person is legally entitled to bereavement leave when someone who is considered immediate family or a ‘dependent’ has died. A dependent is categorised as someone who relies on you for care, and could include a spouse, partner, child, grandchild or parent. It could also include someone outside of your household who you take care of, such as an elderly neighbour.

If the person who has died isn’t immediate family or a dependent, you may still have grounds for bereavement leave. This includes members of your extended family as well as close friends.

How much time can I take off?

The law says that you are entitled to a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off work following the death of a dependent (Employment Rights Act 1996), but it doesn’t specify the exact amount. This means that the length of your bereavement leave is at the discretion of your employer.

Some companies will have a specific policy relating to how much bereavement leave is granted, whilst others base their decision on individual circumstances. Most companies will have some form of written policy in place or base their decision on previous practices.

Is bereavement leave paid?

You don’t have any statutory right to paid bereavement leave, however, some organisations do pay employees during this time. Check your employment contract or company guidelines to see if they have a specific policy on paid bereavement leave.

For anyone in need of financial support following a death, you could be entitled to bereavement benefits. This will depend on both your individual circumstances coupled with your relationship to the deceased. You can find out more by contacting Citizens Advice.

What if I need more time off work?

If you come to the end of your bereavement leave and don’t feel ready to return to work, it is down to your employer whether they offer you any additional time off. You may be able to use some of your annual leave, or else take sick leave.

Try to have open and honest conversations with your employer if you need more time off work. Good communication can often help to find a resolution that both you and your employer feel comfortable with.

How to tell your employer about a death

Try to inform your employer as soon as possible after a death has taken place. If you don’t feel up to speaking on the phone, send an email or text (where appropriate) instead. Depending on the size and structure of the company, you could inform your line manager, the HR department, or both.

If you can, let your employer know when you will next be in touch. This will help your employer know how much space to give you and allow you to grieve without worrying about work.

What if my employer won’t give me time off?

Because the rules surrounding compassionate leave aren’t defined, you may find that your employer refuses bereavement leave or doesn’t offer you as much as you would like. First and foremost, try to have an informal chat with your line manager or HR team to explain your reasons for needing time off work. Even where bereavement leave isn’t offered, you may still be able to take annual leave or sick leave. If you are unhappy with how you have been treated by your employer, you could raise a formal grievance or seek legal advice on how best to proceed.

What is parental bereavement leave?

Parents have the statutory right to take up to two weeks’ leave from work following the death of a child. This applies when a person’s child dies under the age of 18 or is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Parents are also entitled to parental bereavement pay.

Leave can be taken in one block of two weeks, or two separate weeks, and needs to be taken within 56 weeks of a child’s death. If more than one child has died, a person is entitled to parental bereavement leave and pay for each child.

Many organisations will offer an employee more than the statutory minimum when their child dies, so check your employment contract or company guidelines for any additional policies in place.

What happens if I’m self-employed and bereaved?

Bereavement leave is only provided to employees of a company, which means that contractors or the self-employed may not be granted any time off work. It is worth knowing that you may still be considered an employee even if your employer or contract says you are self-employed. If you want to find out more about your entitlement to bereavement leave and bereavement pay, visit Citizens Advice for the most up-to-date information.

If you have recently lost someone and would like our support in planning a funeral, our friendly and supportive team can help. Call us on 01525 372210 or email us via our contact form.